What Will We Do Without Aereo? Easy, it’s Simple.TV

It was a meteoric ride for Aereo since beginning what we called a “take-over bid for the single largest advertising space in the world: the television” at the May 2012 NY Tech Meetup. Of course, the writing may have been on the wall even then, when we said “that television via mobile device is not only possible, but available now… if the broadcasters/ networks/ providers are willing.” (Editor’s Note: These quotes are from the predecessor to the Architechnologist, the late TECHNOGORILLA — that article can be found here). Aereo’s growth from a few early adopters in the five boroughs of New York City to a key role in the development of “cord cutters” (consumers with no cable television accounts) in  New York, Boston, Atlanta, Detroit, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Miami and four cities in Texas is evidence for it’s success.

[box type=”info” border=”full”]Summary of Aereo: Every user pays for the “rental” of one of Aereo’s innumerable micro-antennas (providing access to over-the-Micro-sized TV Antenna from Aereoair television) and use of Aereo’s cloud-based DVR system. The received content is then available (either recorded or live) over an internet connection to the user’s computers, tablets and smartphones.[/box]

Just 777 days later, the Supreme Court of the United States set events in motion to paralyze this startup that moved so far past the limited “early adopter” acceptance found by most innovations. (Editor’s Note: 7-7-7? The SCOTUS ruling is certainly a jackpot for somebody).

The Supreme Court’s decision accepts the broadcast networks’ position: that Aereo’s business was a technology-based method for stealing and reselling their content. There are many very good analyses of the decision available (including one from DisCo, here). While the end of Aereo may be inevitable, but the final details of what the decision means are quite a while away though since the case was remanded to lower court.

[box type=”alert” border=”full”]Full Disclosure: We signed up for an Aereo account at the above-mentioned NYTM as one of their very first customers and used it happily ever since.[/box]

Saturday morning (in a not-so-unexpected move), Aereo sent an email to all of their subscribers that announced a decision “to pause our operations temporarily as we consult with the court and map out our next steps.”

Letter from Aereo CEO
Click to link to the full letter from Aereo CEO, Chet Kanojia

So Now What?

No matter what happens to Aereo in the weeks and months (and perhaps years) ahead, their subscribers are looking for a replacement… fortunately, innovation grows amazingly quickly when there is good fertilizer (like the feedback and results from this ruling) on the ground.

Alternatives for mobile viewing and cloud recording that find some alternative strategy (aka “loophole”) are already available. Unfortunately, all the most robust consumer-facing selections are from the same providers who killed Aereo; applications from cable/satellite providers and the networks themselves are available, providing access to minimal free content (in what appears to be a branch of the advertising budget rather than distribution) or limited access through a paid pipeline that maintains control.

Smart.tv hardwareRising from the not-quite ashes is an alternative that appears to have eliminated the copyright problems and legal wrangling of Aereo —  Simple.TV provides the end-user with a nearly identical service with one major difference. Where Aereo kept local warehouses full of antenna for different broadcast areas, the hardware for Simple.TV is owned (rather than rented) by the user. Like the Aereo service, Simple.TV also provides the user with DVR capabilities — but like the antenna, the physical storage for the data is both owned by and in the possession of the user rather than cloud based.

The Architechnologist had the pleasure of meeting Smart.TV’s Founder and CEO, Mark Ely while at CE Week on the day that the Aereo decision was announced.  Obviously, he sees the potential windfall from the shuttering of a huge competitor, but also sees a very dangerous precedent — one that Simple.TV, their competitors and nearly anyone who “retransmits” could be prevented from doing business.

For the moment, it appears that the solution from Simple.TV is to never take “possession” (albeit for an infinitesimally short period) of the broadcast signal in the way that Aereo did. In fact, the Simple.TV kits include neither internal storage nor an antenna; the Simple.TV website states (repeatedly) that the user will “need a good HDTV antenna and a USB hard drive to store your shows.”

With the fantastic amounts of speculation on the future of online television (especially the re-broadcasting variety) and related cloud-based technologies, it is safe to assume that we will be seeing a lot of development. But for now, might Simple.TV be the successor to the Aereo throne?

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